“We are waging a war against Russia,” Annalena Baerbock snubbed Germany and its chancellor last week. Scholz is now used to grief with the Greens. But two more women are now becoming a problem for him.
Olaf Scholz has a problem with women, actually threefold. It’s not about “soft issues” like gender parity at the cabinet table. The self-declared feminist has a good hand in the Chancellery, although he has replaced Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht (SPD) with a deliberately robust man, namely Boris Pistorius (SPD).
The Chancellor’s problem with women is more serious. First of all, there are questions of content. Second, the women, some of whom have significantly different views than him, come from traffic light parties: his own party leader Saskia Esken, the Greens foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and the defense expert of the FDP, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann.
The chancellor should have gotten used to the foreign minister going it alone and the free democrat’s constant criticism of Scholz’s reluctance to deliver arms to Ukraine. Now, of all people, the SPD co-chairman Esken is making his life difficult. While Scholz is in Argentina, Esken avoided making a clear statement on “ARD” when asked about fighter planes for Kyiv. “It is very important that Germany and NATO are not at war,” she said. That is why the government is in very close coordination with the Americans on these issues.
A clear no sounds different. Scholz would have expected clear support for his position from the Esken party left. He recently put it this way in the Bundestag: “I made it clear very early on that it’s not about combat aircraft and I’m doing it here too.”
So it was not surprising that Scholz from Buenos Aires downright swatted Esken off. “It is idiosyncratic that this debate is being held. Some people have to ask themselves: why is he asking the question when it’s about helping the Ukrainians,” rumbled the chancellor. A serious debate is now necessary and not “an outbidding competition (…), in which perhaps domestic political motives are in the foreground instead of supporting Ukraine”.
Of course, this meant not least security experts and politicians from the CDU/CSU, who, after battle tanks, are also demanding fighter jets for Ukraine. But the “collateral damage” that Esken suffered from Scholz was undoubtedly deliberately taken into account. After all, the chancellor, whose trademark is his eloquent non-binding nature, spoke out clearly and repeatedly against fighter pilots. Unlike “Leopard 2”, where Scholz left everything open until he finally decided to say yes.
In the capital, people are puzzled about what Esken wants to achieve with her statements. So far, the Left Party has been rather cautious about arms deliveries to Ukraine. In addition, security policy is actually the field of work of its co-chairman Lars Klingbeil.
It is quite possible that Esken, who otherwise regularly annoys the coalition partner FDP with her call for much higher taxes, just slipped out the statement about the planes. Maybe she wanted to make a name for herself in a field other than redistribution. In any case, her boss, whom she had once denied the title of “real social democrat” in the fight for the SPD chairmanship, was “not amused”.
The chancellor was also annoyed by some of the statements made by his foreign minister. When she recently declared, “We are waging a war against Russia,” the chancellor’s office was rightly appalled. Baerbock’s early public statement that Berlin would not block the delivery of Leopard tanks also contradicted the chancellor’s delaying tactics.
In a way, Scholz is used to grief with the Greens. Since the beginning of the war – side by side with the FDP – they had always demanded more support from Ukraine. Baerbock, who would like to succeed Scholz as chancellor in 2025, never held back from criticizing Defense Minister Lambrecht. What should also annoy Scholz: Baerbock – together with the Green Economics Minister Robert Habeck – is always ahead of the Chancellor in all surveys. That never happened to Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU).
The biggest “women’s problem” for Scholz, however, is Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chairwoman of the defense committee. Those who are not particularly familiar with politics can sometimes start to ponder: does the controversial defense expert actually belong to the opposition?
When she accuses Scholz of “failure” or “shameful communication” on the tank issue, it’s easy to forget that this “plain texter” sits in the Bundestag for the FDP. That’s why she achieves more than if she delivered her cutting criticism from the opposition benches. Without the constant interventions of “MAStrackZi”, according to their Twitter ID, it would have taken the SPD even longer to follow up Scholz’s speech about the turning point with deeds.
Strack-Zimmermann is a particularly eloquent champion of more German arms supplies to Ukraine, which has been invaded by Putin. This became particularly clear when she made a demonstrative trip to Ukraine last year with committee chairmen Michael Roth (external/SPD) and Toni Hofreiter (Europe/Greens), when Scholz – once again – hesitated. When this traffic light trio demanded significantly more action from Scholz after his return, he made fun of “these boys and girls”: “Because I don’t do what you want, that’s why I lead.”
Meanwhile, Scholz no longer scoffs at the “girl”. Because he had to recognize that this pugnacious politician reached people better than he did with his sometimes muddled statements. In addition, Strack-Zimmermann enjoys the full backing of party leader Christian Lindner: As committee leader, Strack-Zimmermann “is not to please the Federal Chancellor or the head of the Chancellery or any other member of the cabinet”.
Despite all the trouble with “his” wives and especially with Esken’s fighter jet allusions, the chancellor also has positive things to say about the women’s front: Strack-Zimmermann is noticeably reluctant to supply fighter jets. Aircraft are “a completely different thing” than the now promised Leopard main battle tanks, Strack-Zimmermann clarified in the “SWR”. “I don’t see that.” In the Chancellery, however, one might fear that “not” should be understood as “not yet”.